The Injured Body: A Film About Racism in America


‘The Injured Body’ is a documentary film written and directed by Mara Ahmed, a Pakistani American artist and filmmaker based in New York. It aims to unpack racism. It is also a response to a particular political moment – the emboldening of racial intolerance, xenophobia, bigotry and violence. It showcases the voices of a diverse group of women of color, involved in community work in Western New York.

The film’s title is inspired by Claudia Rankine’s book, ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ in which she asks: 

‘How to care for the injured body,
the kind of body that can’t hold

the content it is living?

And where is the safest place when that place 
must be someplace other than in the body?’ 

The film examines racism though the lens of micro-aggressions – slights, slips of the tongue, or intentional offenses that accumulate over a lifetime and impede a person’s ability to function and thrive in the world. 

Mara Ahmed explains the need to deconstruct micro-aggressions:
I chose to approach racism by focusing on micro-aggressions because of two reasons. Firstly, as Claudia Rankine explains, we seem to understand structural racism somewhat, but are baffled by racism coming from friends. It is disorienting because it is unmarked. ‘The Injured Body’ hopes to home in on the language needed to ‘mark the unmarked.’ Secondly, personal stories lend themselves to filmmaking because they can help create intimacy and trust, and lay the groundwork for a paradigm shift. 

The documentary spotlights the voices of women of color not only because their stories are misrepresented/dismissed by mainstream media, but also because they operate at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression and can articulate the complexity of those experiences. Their testimony and analysis can help broaden traditional understandings of feminism as well as anti-racism work. 

The women interviewed for the film also share their visions for a world without bigotry and violence. This is a crucial part of the film, as imagining a world without racism is an important step towards achieving it. 

The documentary weaves together an alternative narrative strand told through dance and movement, mostly choreographed by Mariko Yamada. Since prejudice is largely a matter of reading bodies in particular ways and racism is received by and carried in the body, dance is the perfect medium to underline the personal stories shared in the film.
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Mara Ahmed (Director/Producer/Writer) 
Mara Ahmed has been educated in Belgium, Pakistan and the United States and has an MBA and a Master’s in Economics. She worked in finance until 2004, when she resigned from her job in order to focus on art and film. She studied art at Nazareth College, and film at the Visual Studies Workshop and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Mara’s artwork has been exhibited at galleries in New York and California. Most recently, her art series ‘This Heirloom’ was exhibited at the Douglass Auditorium, as part of Current Seen, Rochester’s small-venue biennial. 

Mara’s first film, The Muslims I Know, premiered at the Dryden Theatre, George Eastman Museum, in 2008 and started a dialogue between American Muslims and people of other faiths. Her second film, Pakistan One on One, opened at the Little Theatre (Rochester, New York) in 2011 and is a broad survey of public opinion about the US, shot entirely in Lahore, Pakistan. Mara’s third film, A Thin Wall, explores the partition of India and possibilities of reconciliation. It premiered at the Bradford Literature Festival, in England, in 2015. Mara’s films have been broadcast on PBS and shown at film festivals around the world, most recently in Taiwan and India. Her production company is Neelum Films LLC. 

Rajesh Barnabas (Cinematography) 
Rajesh has a B.A. in Political Science and Economics from Geneseo University and a Masters in Teaching from Nazareth College. He began work as a journalist and photographer for various Rochester publications. He initiated photography clubs for children and taught at the Rochester Community Darkroom. In the early 2000s, he transitioned to documentary filmmaking with the activist journalism outfit Rochester Indy Media. He taught history and media in Rochester City Schools, and worked at Rochester Community TV under the tutelage of filmmaker Carvin Eison. Rajesh’s passion is for alternative, experimental, and activist media forms. He currently teaches media and filmmaking at Tampa Prep High School, in Florida. 

Darien Lamen (Sound) 
Darien Lamen is a producer, educator, and musician. He holds a PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Pennsylvania. Darien is an experienced ethnographer whose multimedia research projects in Brazil have been funded by the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies. In 2016, he began work as radio producer and assistant news director at WORT in Madison, Wisconsin, producing hundreds of local news stories and interviews, and receiving an award for best audio story in 2016 from the Milwaukee Press Club, the oldest press club in North America. He currently works as a producer/educator at Rochester Community Media Center and WXIR Community Radio in Rochester, New York, where he has collaborated with a range of diverse community partners to produce documentaries, podcast series, and advocacy video campaigns. He is also an active musician and co-founder of the Brazilian forró band, Estrelas do Norte. 

Thomas Davis (Musical Score) 
After a 33-year career as a public school educator, Tom Davis recently retired as K-12 Music Curriculum Area Lead Teacher and Director of Bands in the Canandaigua City School District. Tom earned degrees from Ithaca College and the Eastman School of Music. His prominent teachers and mentors include Rayburn Wright, Bill Dobbins, Manny Albam, Steve Brown, John LaBarbera, Ramon Ricker, Vincent DiMartino, composer Stephen Melillo and conductor/educator Edward Lisk. An active composer and conductor, Mr. Davis has published over 150 jazz, concert band, orchestra and chamber works through his company Tom Davis Music Publications as well as artistShareTM Educational Programs Publications (EPP), Heritage Jazz Works (Lorenz Publications), Kendor Music, Warner Brothers Publications, and Alfred Publications. Tom currently teaches Film Scoring and Composing for Video Games and interactive Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology. 

Mariko Yamada (Dance Choreography) 
Mariko Yamada is a Rochester-based choreographer, dance artist, and educator. Originally from Japan, she discovered dance as a young adult. She studied dance education at SUNY Potsdam for a BA and at The College at Brockport for an MFA. She is a lecturer at Nazareth College and The College at Brockport, where she teaches the creative aspects of dance and possibilities of movement. In addition to choreographing her own dance works and commissioned works, she enjoys expanding her artistic horizon by collaborating with artists from other disciplines. She recently collaborated with composer Octavio Vazquez for the Vision of Sound Concert, which toured Western New York. Her current project with filmmaker/activist/artist Mara Ahmed combines dance and film to investigate the underpinnings of racism. Mariko is also excited to be a part of Rochester Dance Theater’s multimedia production of ‘Ripple’ as it affords her more opportunities for collaboration. 

Chuck Munier/NXT Media (Post-Production) 
As the owner and senior editor at NXT Media, in Fairport, Chuck has over 37 years of experience in the video postproduction field. He began his career in 1981 working on film and video productions. As a sound recordist, he gained valuable experience working with writers, directors, producers and a variety of crew members on local, regional and national productions. After several years, he moved into video editing becoming one of a handful of editors using the latest computerized editing systems in the area. Through the years he has worked on a wide range of corporate videos, music videos, local and national broadcast programs and commercials. Chuck has also worked on independent films and documentaries, which have been broadcast on national television networks and American Public Television. His work has been shown across the country in national broadcasts and on American Public Television. Chuck has received several awards throughout his career including the Cine Golden Eagle award.